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Letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council

NB: Update, 1700 9 March 2018.  We have had a response from the Chair of Council. attached at the foot of this post.

Away from the vitality and vibrancy of our pickets and teach-outs, Southampton UCU members have been busy writing letters and campaigning.  You will have seen our open letter, signed by over 1000 people, that we published on Monday.

Today, we sent another letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council, asking them to make representations to Sir Christopher Snowden, our President and VC.  We asked specifically for him to align the University of Southampton with the growing number of universities who are now rejecting the “November valuation” of USS on which UUK’s final proposals were based.  We also asked for Southampton to follow the example of a number of institutions who have committed to spreading pay deductions for striking members over the rest of the academic year.

The text of the letter is given here:

Dear Dr Rider

We are writing to you and all members of Council to ask that you use your influence with the President and Vice-Chancellor to encourage him to support a return to the September valuation of the USS scheme.

Over the past week, we have seen the academic leadership of a growing number of the country’s most distinguished universities reconsider their positions, leaving Southampton increasingly isolated in its hard-line position on the valuation, and on its endorsement of a full defined contribution basis for our pensions.

UUK’s misguided and cavalier approach to negotiation, and its stubborn adherence to a methodology that has been thoroughly and very publically discredited, is bringing the university leaders who continue to support its position into serious disrepute.  We have seen international voices – in China, Europe, and the US – raised in disbelief and dismay at a dispute that has been gravely exacerbated by the antics of the organisation that claims to be “the voice of [UK] universities.”

We hope that you and the rest of Council will see the wisdom in bringing Southampton’s avowed position into line with that now held by Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Glasgow, Sheffield, Warwick and numerous other institutions, and that you will give counsel to the President and Vice-Chancellor on this basis.

We have another request of the academic leadership at Southampton.  A number of universities, concerned with ensuring positive relations between staff and management once the strike has concluded, have not only decided against withholding pay from staff participating in their legally mandated Action Short of a Strike by working their contracted hours, but also have committed to spreading the deductions in pay for full strike days over the next four months, to lessen the impact on the most vulnerable part-time and precarious staff. We are very happy that the President and Vice-Chancellor has decided that there will be no pay deductions in respect of ASOS, but we think that it would show goodwill and an intention to repair industrial relations if Southampton would follow the example of other institutions by also spreading the full strike deductions over the remainder of the academic year.

In addition, we know that staff and students are concerned that the withheld pay is used in a way that most benefits the student community. Would you please confirm that the funds will be directed to the Student Support Fund or used to create additional bursaries, on top of those to which the university is already committed?

We are certain that you are aware of the depth of feeling now in the university community and the strength of support for the dispute, even as it ends its third week. We have been greatly buoyed by the students and the way they have supported the action we are taking. We wanted to share with you the comments made by students, current and alumni, on our recent open letter (published 5 March 2018) to the President and Vice-Chancellor. The letter accrued over 1000 signatures in 36 hours, 44% of which were current or ex-students.  This is what they had to say:

  • The deplorable behaviour from our President has served to divide the students only more fully. The mere implication that he believes we will turn on our lecturers, pats, and other university staff, who are far more involved and who guide us through our experiences, is utterly disgusting.
  • As an alumni, this is not acceptable and I will be withdrawing all of my donations to the university if it continues.
  • The staff at the university I deal with are highly professional, extremely hard-working, and care deeply about the education and well-being of the students. Please recognise how important these issues are if a strike is deemed to be the only effective way to communicate their voices.
  • Let’s hope that this strike is one of many action to come in reclaiming education from the management- and business types!
  • A PhD student who has been driven even further away from a career in academia.
  • I was considering teaching as a future option. Not anymore…This is incredibly disappointing.
  • My lecturers work so hard on my behalf, they deserve fair treatment.
  • It is incredibly unfair that students are missing out on their education when we are paying absurd amounts of money for it! Please re-open negotiations and sort this out so I can learn what I came to this university to learn.
  • My university lecturers are an asset to the University of Southampton, and without them, I would not have come to this University. I believe the VC of the University of Southampton has clearly under-estimated how valuable these lecturers are, by not supporting the lecturers with their pensions. The University of Southampton is largely what it is because of [its] amazing lecturers.
  • Divest in marketing and building more buildings to house endlessly under qualified apathetic undergraduates in untenable numbers. I want my degree from Southampton to mean something. I quit working as a Student Ambassador temp because I felt it was untrue to sell Southampton as a good deal for potential students’ future anymore. The commodification has to stop somewhere or the university will just be for rich … kids and engineers, again not what I want my degree to mean for potential employers or other institutions. If it starts here with pensions, excellent. Lecturers never have enough time to teach properly and with the recent University restructure it’s not like they’re getting any more time. To take even more is a total joke. This should not be making life harder for students, they are the paying customer and if you want to keep the degree mill running you had better compensate with your workers. I’ll be looking elsewhere to continue my studies in future as it is.
  • There was a time not so long ago that I was considering a career in academia. Severely put off by the university’s response to this situation.
  • The outcome of UUK’s actions will influence my decision to work in academia. Please do not jeopardise my future.
  • I have been a member of the UoS community for about five and a half years now, first as an undergraduate student, then a PGT student, and now a PGR student. As a PGR I have undertaken teaching duties. So, I have seen the passion, dedication, and sheer hard work of the university’s staff from almost every conceivable angle. I’ve always considered Southampton my academic home and somewhere I would continue to be proudly affiliated, for a long into the future. The recent actions and attitudes of the senior management with regards the pensions dispute are forcing me to reconsider this.
  • You need to support higher education as much as possible, including those teaching it. Stand up.
  • Accepting a huge pay rise to make you some vice chancellor overlord whilst firing academic staff to fund your own selfishness is so utterly disgusting. Its corrupt actions like this that undermine society as is happening with the pensions and university staff.
  • Please listen to the masses! Become emphatically empathetic and push towards stopping this policy change.
  • Supporting your staff means supporting your students and surely that is the purpose of the [] President’s job as the representative of this university. The lecturers work hard and they don’t deserve to have part of their pension stolen from them.
  • Our devoted staff deserve fair pensions !!!!!!!!
  • It is unbelievable that Southampton haven’t already stood with the other institutions against these proposals, and frankly disappointing that Southampton didn’t take a lead on such an important issue.
  • The strike action needs to stop at some point, if a fair and decent agreement can be made then I’m hoping we will be able to recoup time lost via missed lectures/lack of help in lab sessions.
  • The lecture[r]s I have are amazing and I hope that ucu and uuk can come back to the table and not attack the lecture[r]s at all.
  • Please give me back the part of the tuition fee for the cancelled classes. Please go to negotiate for social justice.
  • I’m sickened that a [VC]’s pay has gone up, and perks have been given since I have joined University in 2014, while our rankings have consistently gone down. Higher pay should only be given to incentivize better results and student support. So to not support the guarantee of staff’s pensions while taking a greater pay package in good conscience suggests a resignation is in hand.
  • I would previously have recommended Southampton as being an excellent place to study, but as the VC’s selfish behaviour comes up far too frequently for me to maintain this position. Southampton uni feels corrupted to me (a feeling which I know is shared by my peers), and if a prospective student were to ask my opinion on the uni, I would feel obliged to dissuade them from pouring their money into an institution which spends in the wrong areas and has little regard for staff and student.
  • The strike is very detrimental to student learning and the university must accept the pension changes are not acceptable and the university must compensate students with special considerations, but importantly staff deserve to have security in retirement
  • I want my tuition fees back, absolute shambles, this is ruining my education.
  • As an international student, paying so much to be here, it is a shame this issue has taken so long to get resolved. I feel as though myself and all other affected students should be entitled to a refund/discount on tuition fees proportionate to the number of days missed as a result of the strike. University should never be run for-profit!
  • It is not just a fight regarding the current members of staff, but of the staff of the future also.
  • The university must put the needs of their staff before any other concerns – without our amazing staff and the ability to attract future talent, this and all UK universities would cease to provide a high standard of research or education.
  • As an international student paying 22000 gbp a year in tuition fees, it is disheartening to see that less and less money is being used to support the people responsible for providing my education.

We were astonished by the response to our open letter, which followed our petition with 5200 signatures which we delivered to Sir Christopher on Monday. The pension dispute has revealed a number of areas of concern to staff, students and our wider community and we are concerned that the senior leadership of the University is not listening to us. It is clear significant numbers of students feel very strongly about the staff who guide and assist their learning and support the strike action. We hope that their concern and compassion speaks to you and the rest of Council, and that you will act in a way that reassures the university community that you, too, have the best interests of the community at heart.



for Southampton UCU Branch Committee

See here for Dr Gill Rider’s response:

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